It’s not easy to be a politician whose ideology is often at odds with his constituents, who dares to vote his conscience or speak his mind. What history often judges as brave integrity, present-day politics punishes. The latest politician to face this dilemma is Lindsey Graham.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) (Susan Walsh/Associated Press) Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

The South Carolina senator has irritated tea party constituents and been vilified by other Republicans for his willingness to cooperate with Democrats on issues like climate change and immigration. Now that he’s in a reelection cycle and faces the prospect of challenge from the right in a most conservative state, how’s he holding up? Pretty well, I’d say. Yes, he’s doing some things more theatrically — his opposition to Chuck Hagel may not be entirely politically motivated, but he’s playing it with a bit more flair, appealing to the pit. Graham knows Hagel will most likely be confirmed, but he may get a little credit for sticking it to the Obama administration and, who knows, delays sometimes cause things to turn up; new negative information on Hagel could make Graham the hero. He is also saying some silly things, like telling Fox News Sunday that getting rid of “Obamacare” is one of the solutions to the nation’s deficit. Really? I thought most Republicans hate the new health-care law because of its taxes,fees and cuts in Medicare, placed there to make it score revenue neutral or positive with the real arbiters of our democracy, the accountants at the Congressional Budget Office.

Perhaps we should forgive these lapses. After all, the default ideological setting for a South Carolina senator these days is a lot closer to recently retired Jim DeMint than Graham, so we could be doing a lot worse.